Life Style Sports was one retailer that was in no rush to change. Unlike some brands, it did not charge into online and omni-channel retail during lockdown. But this was only because it was already doing both.
“Pre-Covid, our online offering was the same as it was during Covid,” said Gordon Newman, Go to market director at Life Style Sports.
Life Style Sports shops, like many others, were periodically forced to close in 2020, but the business already offered online shopping though both its website and a bespoke app.
“We recognised back in 2011 the growing importance of e-commerce. Life Style Sports is an omni-channel business and we’ve always seen e-commerce as an important pillar,” he said.
The business is now working with Strata3 to develop its next stage omni-channel strategies, including making effective use of data.
According to Newman, all businesses are afforded with an opportunity to get to grips with data. Indeed, as time passes it will become a necessity. “There are businesses that don’t know what they’re looking for within their data.
“One of the advantages of working with someone like Strata3 is that they’re experts: they have that breadth of experience and know what they’re looking for. That’s one of the reasons that we’re working for them: they might see things that we would miss,” he said.
Newman said that in a competitive market – and Life Style Sports is in competition not only with other sportswear shops and the online e-commerce giants, but with all retail and anything else that might grab customer attention and cash – working on an e-commerce solution can’t be a one-off ‘big bang’.
“One of the things we talk about is how competitive the market is. We consider optimisation to be a long-term investment. Optimisation of the user experience is a point of differentiation for us.
“The sportswear market is incredibly competitive, but also there’s the whole share-of-wallet conversation. A customer has a choice and they can choose to spend money with us on sportswear or they can go to a fashion retailer and buy a pair of jeans,” he said.
Maria O’Neill, head of client relations at Strata3, said the agency saw its goal as delivering ongoing and measurable results.
“It’s something we’re really excited about. Life Style is a really mature brand in an e-commerce context,” said O’Neill.
Although Strata3 is a full digital agency, it has developed particular experience in optimisation and user-experience (UX), working with clients including Fáilte Ireland to develop solutions that are not only attractive and technically competent, but also respond to user needs and desires, guiding them through their journeys.
As Life Style was already established online, Strata3’s job was to take a 360-degree view of its operations and goals, with a focus on optimisation.
“We recognised the partnership is about optimising the online experience. What we've seen on our side is a big increase in digital performance,” she said.
O’Neill sounded a cautionary note, though: there are many businesses out there willing to take money in return for traffic, but retailers need to understand the value of visitors.
“We’ve seen many e-tailers invest in PPC [pay-per-click advertising] and SEO [search engine optimisation] driving traffic to sites that are suboptimal. It’s like filling a leaky bucket: they don’t fix the issue, nor do they understand that a site is never done and dusted – and that’s absolutely key,” she said.
The goal should not be raw numbers, she said, but rather to understand visitors and convert them into customers. “The job is only half done if you have a new site and have spent a lot of money on digital marketing.
“You have three customers in a hundred who actually convert. What businesses aren’t doing is understanding the 97 and what they can do to improve that,” she said.
Improvements to the online experience can range from small, iterative changes to complete overhauls, but the focus, particularly for retailers only now moving to e-commerce and omni-channel, should be on things like giving potential customers the right information at the right time.
“The insights that are uncovered feed into product development and proposition development,” said O’Neill.
For Newman, the experience of online shopping should directly relate to the in-store experience: “Really giving customers that consistency in how they experience the brand, be that a digital or a physical touchpoint,” he said.
With the future of in-store retail looking increasingly like showroom and branding experiences, at least partially, the nature of apps and websites will evolve, too. In some cases, they will become the primary sales channel – something many businesses experienced in 2020.
“What the pandemic really did was just accelerate our digital strategy. We had built for an omni-channel future and the impact of the pandemic meant our growth was massively accelerated.”
Having an omni-channel strategy takes into account that customers are looking for more than just the moment of sale.
“There is always going to be a role for inspiration and a role for physical retail, and that’s why we’re still investing,” said Newman.